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10 Van Conversion Mistakes To Avoid During Your Build

Nobody wants to finish constructing their camper van only to realize later that they wish they could have done things differently. We all want to have that perfect van! But no matter how much research we put into our campervan builds, we’ll always have a list of van conversion mistakes. Even we have regrets.

Our van build errors include:

  • Choosing the wrong building materials
  • Inefficient camper van layout
  • Poor electrical planning

This article will discuss many common mistakes that van conversion builders make, including those we made in our camper. The purpose of this post is to help educate our readers so they can make their own choices on how to proceed with their van builds.

1. Not Creating a Detailed Van Build Layout

One of the biggest van build mistakes comes before any construction occurs, which is not having a detailed, to-scale floor plan already sketched out. Planning the layout is essential to ensure that every inch of available space is used optimally. It also ensures that all the products you intend to place in your van, such as a fridge, water tanks, batteries, and inverter, fit snugly.

You don’t want to finish constructing your kitchen counters only to find out afterward that your propane tank won’t fit!

Digital layout of camper van interior showing the kitchen, bed, and overhead cabinets
Digital layout of our van interior

That’s why we recommend using any free drawing software that you might have on your computer to sketch your van’s future floor plan. Just remember to make everything to scale; that way, you won’t have any surprises when installing the furniture. In the above sketch, you can see how we partitioned our furniture with detailed dimensions and were able to fit each of our large items.

You do not need any fancy 3D modeling software. All you need is any drawing application that you already have installed on your computer. Sure, the result may not be as fancy as the paid software you can find online, but it’s free to do and not as difficult as you might think.

Read our van conversion layout creator post to learn how to do this.

2. Not Taking Advantage of Free Online Resources

When researching for our van build, we were stunned by how many free resources were available online. You can find all the information you need online if you know how to ask the right questions on Google or YouTube. Don’t make the mistake of trying to figure everything out yourself.

This blog provides free PDFs you can download, showing you how to build your van’s electric, solar, and plumbing systems. We provide detailed diagrams and product lists to help you connect everything together easily and quickly.

Check them out below.

3. Not Mold Proofing Your Wood Material

Mold growth is a serious issue for camper vans, so not taking the proper steps to prevent mildew is one of the biggest van build mistakes you can make. This is especially true if you plan to travel to areas of high humidity, such as Florida or along the Caribbean.

For all plywood boards, we recommend a two-step strategy for mold prevention.

  1. Anti-Mold Spray: Apply two coats to all wood pieces.
  2. Mold Killing Primer: Apply a single coat on all wood pieces.

In the below photo, we just finished adding the Zinsser Mold Killing Primer to our sub-floor plywood boards. Once dried, we installed them in our van.

Two pieces of painted plywood sub-floor set outside to dry
Two plywood sub-floor pieces drying outside

Want more info? Read our camper van mold prevention tips.

4. Not Installing a Vent Fan With a Rain Cover

Installing a vent fan that doesn’t include a rain cover is a huge mistake. Just ask any van lifer who has ever traveled during the rainy season.

If you didn’t know already, a vent fan isn’t only helpful during the hot summer months but critical to expel moist, sticky air during periods of high humidity. And this is especially true when it’s raining outside.

Maxxair Maxxfan Rain Cover - Best RV Vent Fan
Maxxfan rain cover on our camper van

We spent five months camped in Mexico during the torrential rainy season, and being stuck inside the van when it’s wet outside is no fun. Everything is moist and gross, and you must keep all your doors and windows closed to keep the rain out. And if your vent fan doesn’t have a rain cover, you’ll need to keep the lid closed and the fan turned off.

That’s why we only recommend the Maxxair brand vent fan to anyone converting a camper van. Though they’re slightly more expensive than their competitors, like the Fan-Tastic Fan, the built-in rain cover makes up for the premium price several times over.

Maxxair | Maxxfan Deluxe

A high-quality vent fan is a top van life essential. It exhausts stale, greasy, & musty air and promotes fresh air flow into the van. The Maxxfan's unique rain cover allows you to continue operating the fan even when it's raining hard outside.

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5. Not Enough Batteries

We can’t tell you how many van lifers we’ve met that did not have a large enough battery bank installed in their camper vans. We don’t have enough fingers (or toes!) to count them all. Too many van converters are buying a single 100Ah 12V AGM battery and thinking this is enough power.

Spoiler alert: it’s not. Not even close.

What ultimately happens for campers with too small of a battery bank is that the battery is regularly depleted daily. Running out of battery prevents you from powering your electrical devices and significantly reduces the batteries’ lifespan, leading to their premature death.

To help you, we put together a helpful battery size calculator that factors in your power requirements and puts together a robust battery recommendation that will last for the duration of your van travels.

6. Using AGM Instead of Lithium Batteries

We don’t understand why there is still this persistent belief that lithium batteries are expensive. In reality, lithium prices have dropped substantially over the last decade. Lithium batteries are actually cheaper per Watt-hour than their AGM counterparts if you factor in depth-of-discharge (DoD) and lifespan differences between the two battery chemistries.

If you know nothing about leisure batteries…we recommend reading our leisure battery guide to help get you up to speed.

This has led us to confidently state that buying AGM batteries is one of the BIGGEST van build mistakes you can make today. Lithium batteries are better in almost every single way.

  • Cheaper per Watt-hour of usable power
  • 3x longer lifespan
  • Greater depth-of-discharge
  • Higher voltage output

We use Battle Born lithium batteries in our camper van, which are fantastic but admittedly expensive. Many online budget-friendly models provide the same lithium benefits at a much better value point.

Best Budget LiFePO4
Li Time | Lithium Battery (100Ah)

Our top lithium battery recommendation! The Li Time "TM" packs a serious punch in a compact enclosure. Wide-ranging BMS with low-temperature protection. And superior shock resistance.

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Read our LiTime vs. Redodo budget lithium battery comparison to learn which battery we recommend and why.

If we could build our van again, we would have used these cheaper lithium batteries. At roughly 1/3 the price of a Battle Born, even if they only last half as long, it still would be beneficial.

7. Screwing Plywood Directly Into Sheet Metal Walls

When building our van, we watched numerous van build videos where the person fixes their plywood walls to their van by screwing directly into the vehicle’s sheet metal wall. Setting aside the fact that they are needlessly creating new holes in their van and opening themselves up to additional rust opportunities, screwing into sheet metal does not provide a strong anchor point for the plywood walls to rest on.

This is because a screw has minimal contact with the thin sheet metal. The result is a low pull-out force.

Instead, you should take advantage of the fabricated holes that already exist in your van’s sheet metal walls by installing cross nuts or rivet nuts.

Pre-Bulbed Cross Nuts

Our top recommendation for fixing plywood walls, ceiling boards, and furniture to your van's sheet metal frame. Different vans use different size cross nuts, refer to the links below to locate the specific size you need.

Amazon (Sprinter & Promaster) Amazon (Transit)
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These threaded inserts are a fantastic solution that firmly holds your plywood wall boards (and ceiling and other furniture) to your van’s frame without drilling new holes in the van’s sheet metal.

To learn more, read our furring strip installation post.

8. Installing Electrical Wires That Are Too Small

Electrical safety is a critical concept to understand to keep you and your camper van safe. One of the biggest electrical van conversion mistakes you can make is installing too thin wires for the amount of current (Amps) you plan to deliver through the cables.

But we understand that it can feel cumbersome to calculate power ratings and current flow for every electric device just so that you can figure out the ‘ideal’ wire size for each piece. Secondly, buying so many different-sized wires is expensive and leads to a waste of excess cables.

That’s why we simplify the process and recommend the following wire sizes for each section of your van’s electrical build:

For more details, read our camper van wire size guide.

9. Not Water Proofing the Area Under the Sink

Van life and plumbing leaks go hand-in-hand. It’s frustratingly hard to keep water where it should be. This difficulty is compounded when the plumbing system experiences constant vibrations and shocks when the camper van is in motion.

As a result, in our van, we would sometimes experience water leaks under our sink, and our plywood cabinets would be soaked in water.

Mold growing under camper van sink
Mold growing under campervan sink

That’s why we recommend water-proofing, with a polyurethane coating, any wood areas at risk of being wet. This would most likely include the region under the sink, which holds the fresh & grey water tanks. After we applied the coating, the plywood no longer soaked up water when we had leaks, which is perfect for preserving the wood and preventing wood rot and mold growth.

Recommended Product
Varathane Polyurethane Paint (Water-Based)

Protects indoor wood from water. Apply two coats to wood surface to create water-proof barrier.

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10. Installing A Small Sink

We understand that interior space is limited in a camper van. But if cooking your meals is essential for you, don’t make the mistake of choosing a small sink and thinking they’re a space-efficient van life solution.

We’ve seen van conversions utilizing tiny “bar style” sinks and wonder how anyone could meal prep and wash up afterward. And to use these types of sinks day after day must be a real headache.

That’s why, even when considering limited interior space restrictions, we recommend getting a robust & spacious sink, which makes dish duty a breeze. Specifically, we’re a fan of these 15″x15″ stainless steel sinks that are big and deep enough to fit most large plates and pans. We use the Ruvati RV sink, but you can find many different and similar models online.

Ruvati 15x15" RV Sink (Top Mount)

We love our Ruvati sink. Spacious design and solid stainless steel construction will meet your demands for a high-quality & robust sink solution. Includes cutting board & drying rack, which nestles inside the sink during driving days. Makes dish-washing duty a breeze.

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Read our Ruvati RV sink review for more details.

Avoid Camper Van Conversion Mistakes With Proper Layout Planning

We are huge advocates of planning your camper van’s layout in advance because once the conversion process is done, it’s hard to make physical changes after. And even though we planned well, we still had several build regrets. It’s challenging to build a 100% perfect camper interior on your first try, but you can learn from the van conversion mistakes of others.

So we hope this article was helpful for you.

To learn more about how you can plan your campervan floor plan and interior layout, check out our DIY camper van conversion build guide.

Happy building!

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